Caring for a Senior Pet
Help yours grow old with grace
Just like people, pets can develop age-related health conditions, but you can help them live out their golden years gracefully. Turn the page for how.
1Watch for Signs of Pain
Pets can slow down as they age for many reasons, including arthritis, back pain, and decreased muscle mass. Hesitance to jump up, yelping when moved, and foot dragging can point to arthritis in dogs, explains Mary Gardner, D.V.M., cofounder of Lap of Love, a veterinarian network specializing in pet hospice and euthanasia. Changes in grooming behavior or not using the litter box could mean a cat is hurting. If yours shows these symptoms, your vet may be able to prescribe antiinflammatory or pain-relief options.
2Ease Aging Anxiety
At least 50% of dogs over age 10 have some form of cognitive dysfunction, Gardner says. It often shows up as panting and pacing, especially at night. “They can become restless and have a stressed look on their faces,” she says. Pets may also stare off into space or headbutt walls, seemingly unaware of their surroundings. Cats may meow or howl at night too. Nicholas Dodman, D.V.M., cofounder of the Center for Canine Behavior Studies, adds that if pets become less social or active or appear to forget their house training, that can also point to cognitive issues. While there’s no cure for pet dementia, your vet can help find ways to reduce your pet’s senility-related anxiety.
3Help Them Stay Well Longer
Bring older pets for a checkup at least twice a year starting at age 7, both vets say, as they’re more susceptible to developing a disease or losing their vision or hearing. “There are subtle things your vet can notice that may not be as evident to you,” Gardner explains. Meanwhile, resist the urge to “treat” your senior pet to more generous food portions. Gardner says that pets who are even 10% overweight can suffer from too much stress on their joints. If your pet’s activity starts to slow down, work with your vet to decrease his caloric intake. But don’t stop playing with him: Exercising with pets is a major factor in keeping them healthy as they age, Dodman says, as is a strong bond with you.
4Know When It’s Time to Say Goodbye
This is a tough decision you don’t have to make alone. Have a frank talk with your vet about your pet’s prognosis as well as your family’s ability to keep her comfortable, Gardner advises. Dodman also suggests getting outside opinions from trusted family members or friends who may have a more objective view of your pet. “The best piece of advice I give is that it will always feel too early until it is too late,” Gardner says.